Lily Pons was a French-American coloratura soprano.
Born as Alice “Lili” Joséphine Pons in Draguignan near Cannes, Pons first studied piano at the Paris Conservatory, winning the First Prize at the age of 15. At the onset of World War I in 1914, she moved with her mother and younger sister Juliette to Cannes, where she played piano and sang for soldiers at receptions given in support of the French troops and at the famous Hotel Carlton that had been transformed into a hospital, and where her mother, Marie Pons, worked as a volunteer nurse orderly. In 1925, encouraged by soprano Dyna Beumer, she started taking singing lessons from Alberto de Gorostiaga in Paris.
She successfully made her operatic debut in the title role of Léo Delibes’ Lakmé at Mulhouse in 1928 and went on to sing several coloratura roles in French provincial opera houses.
She was discovered by the impresario Giovanni Zenatello, who took her to New York where she auditioned for Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera.The Met needed a star coloratura after the retirement of Amelita Galli-Curci in January 1930. On January 3, 1931, Pons, unknown in the U.S., made an unheralded Met debut as Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and on that occasion the spelling of her first name was changed to “Lily”. Against all odds, her performance received tremendous acclaim. She became a star overnight and inherited most of Galli-Curci’s important coloratura roles. She also signed a recording contract with RCA Victor Records.